LEWISTON, Maine — The city of Lewiston has approved a new ordinance regulating homeless shelters. Last week, the city council voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance that places rules and guidelines for shelters in the city.
"I look forward to future partnerships between the city, shelter providers, and housing experts to work toward responsibly and actively addressing Lewiston's homeless challenges," Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said.
The new ordinance comes after a roughly six-month moratorium on new homeless shelters in the city. After the moratorium was put in place, Mayor Sheline helped establish an ad-hoc shelter committee to study homelessness in the region and help draft the ordinance.
The new ordinance controls where in the city a new homeless shelter can be located, requires a 250-foot buffer between shelters and schools or daycares, and caps the number of shelter beds in the city to 120.
Mayor Sheline said he did not support the moratorium, but is hopeful with new regulations in place shelter providers can work toward establishing a new shelter in Lewiston.
"Homelessness is a challenge here in Lewiston and it has been growing. I see people sleeping on the streets, in our parks, in alcoves," Sheline said. "In our fight against homelessness, one of the things that is missing here in Lewiston is a low barrier shelter. I'm hopeful that organizations will see the need here in Lewiston, and start to talk about what's possible."
Craig Saddlemire served as co-chair of the ad-hoc shelter committee. According to the committee's final report, 1000 people have experienced homelessness over the past year in Lewiston. That committee served temporarily, however, leaders have now written a letter to city leaders, calling on the city to help facilitate the establishment of a temporary winter shelter.
"Let's not forget why we're all talking about this to begin with, which is, we have people who are homeless. That need is throughout the year, but particularly in the winter months the situation can become fatal for people. So really, we're talking about saving lives," Saddlemire said.
Saddlemire said the committee recommended the establishment of a winter shelter by Oct. 1 in its final report. Mayor Sheline said where the ordinance has just recently passed, there have not been formal discussions yet about a new shelter coming to the city.
"We've passed an ordinance, I think we've made a good regulation, but that's not the same thing as actually getting the need met. It's just a policy on paper. The work needs to be done," Saddlemire said.
You can read the ad-hoc shelter committee's final report here.
The moratorium is expected to be lifted on Oct. 21, which coincides with when the new ordinance will take effect.